Anna Buruma! Paging Anna Buruma!

Liberty Mauverina

Dilly recently posted a comment to the effect that the V&A had recently hosted Liberty archivist Anna Buruma, who spoke about the history of that company and their designs.

Needless to say, I was just shattered to have missed this (leaving aside that taking a trip from Chicago to London for a two-hour event would not have been very ecologically responsible of me). But it got me to thinking — someone who reads this blog must have contact info for Ms. Buruma, yes? And if we asked very nicely, don't you think she'd like to do a Q&A with us?

Massive amounts of searching have failed to turn up a contact email (I suppose I *could* just CALL THE STORE, but that seems so twentieth-century). If, in fact, anyone does know Ms. Buruma and could effect an introduction, I'd be very, very grateful. And in the meantime, you could leave the questions you'd want asked in the comments, just in case …

[Fabric is Liberty Mauverina, from eBay seller laluthan.]

UPDATE: I have exchanged emails with Ms. Buruma and she is willing to be interviewed … please leave any questions you'd like me to ask in the comments! Thanks so much to LondonGirl for getting us in touch!

A Repeat Performance

McCalls 8858

I broke down and bought this pattern again. I know it seems profligate to buy another copy of a pattern that I already own, but I only have this pattern in a larger bust size (bought it when I was still nursing and thought I would be living in the land of the ample-chested forever) and, honestly, it's easier for me to spend $8 on eBay than two hours redrafting. Welcome to my first-world life, the next tour begins in twelve minutes.

I have to say that this is one of my favorite necklines in the history of the dress (and/or the neck). It's just the right combo of sweet and elegant, and it is really fun both to make and to wear.

A few years back, just before I started blogging, I made this bodice about eight different times. There was an Eiffel tower print, and a black-and-white print, and a blue kind of atomic/lava-lamp blob print, and a few others I'm sure I'm not remembering. They all got worn into shreds, and rightly so.

It's also freakishly quick to make (unlike a lot of those "sew it today, wear it tonight!" patterns I see). There are a few darts, a few seams, a side zipper, and a hem, and boom, you're done and walking out the door in it (and, if you're me, trailing many, many tiny pieces of thread, but that's not the PATTERN'S fault).

So: if I had a Dress A Day stamp of approval, or ribbon, or underwriting laboratory, this pattern would be stamped, be-ribboned, and certified for all on- and off-label uses.

And maybe this time I'll even make the little jacket!

In Which I Answer Some Random Questions

Buttericke 6541

It's been some time since I answered in a general way some of the common questions that are emailed to me, so maybe it's time to do so again …

The #1 question I seem to get lately is not so much a question, but a request for me to make people stuff. I wish I could, really, but being able to sew well for other people is a special gift and requires vast reserves of time and patience, neither of which I have. At all. So, while I sympathize with your desire for the prom dress, wedding gown, or shirtwaist of your dreams, you must make those dreams a reality in some other way.

Probably question #2 is "How big is your closet?" to which the answer is, "Not big enough!" Heh. I do make a LOT of dresses, but I tend to rotate them in and out of service and keep the things I can't POSSIBLY give away (fewer than you'd think) in big plastic tubs. Also, I'm a klutz so it's the rare dress that avoids life-ending ketchup or ink stains for more than a year or so.

Question #3 tends to be "Will you link to me?" I'd like to, I'd really like to (okay, not the skeevy spam-farming fake-watch-selling people, you KNOW who you ARE) but right now I'm idly contemplating a site redesign and waiting on that to mess with my links, since changing all that is going to be a huge horrible PITA. Any suggestions for the redesign would not be taken amiss. (Oh, and if you are asking me to link to your latest me-too "fashionista"-type site that has NOTHING to do with dresses or vintage but is instead all crappy overpriced handbags, celebrity sunglasses, and embellished jeans: who do you think you're fooling? Either you've never read this site AT ALL, or your reading comprehension has been adversely affected by the Giant Freakin' Logos unevenly distributed about your person. Ahem.)

Question #4 seems to be "Would you like to participate in our banner ad campaign?" to which the answer is also "No, thank you." I only want to run ads on this site that are for small businesses who support home sewing or sell vintage fashion. This means I've turned down dunnohowmany jeans companies (Again: what is it with the jeans people and READING COMPREHENSION?), major diet companies, financial services companies, etc.

Question #5 is "Will there be more Secret Lives?" Answer: yes. Soon. I promise.

I'm assuming the question that will be most often asked in the comments on this post is "WHERE can I get that pattern up at the top of the entry?", so I'm heading it off at the pass by saying that it's on eBay right now (from Rita at Chez Cemetarian). Feel free to click through and visit it!

Just … One … More …

Vogue 8731

Drat that Julie. If she hadn't linked to this pattern I never would have bought it. Well, okay, I *probably* wouldn't have bought it. Possibly wouldn't have bought it? Might not have bought it on FRIDAY? Hmmmph.

But I saw that little buttoned cuff on the short sleeve and it was lurve. That, along with the pocket, meant I had to have it. As well Julie knew. Hmmph again, I say.

I even did some sewing yesterday, but it got to the point where the dress and I had a little difference of opinion, so I left it alone in a time-out to think about where it went wrong. I used this fabric, with a pattern I swear I've blogged about before but can't find. Oh, well. There will be pictures someday. (I used red trim, too, on the pockets and collar, and red buttons.)

I'm traveling the next couple of days so posting may be spotty. And sewing will be non-existent, unless I lose a button …

O Tannen-what?

Agatha Ruiz de la Prada Xmas tree greenpeace dress

This is up at Yoox today, NOT in the sale, mind you, even though Christmas is but a cold and distant memory. This is a charity dress, made by Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, with all proceeds (and at $250/per, that's some proceedings) going to Greenpeace.

It's wool. I'm assuming felt, from the way it hangs. Here's the back:

Agatha Ruiz de la Prada Xmas tree greenpeace dress

I even almost like this dress. I think with the right joie de vivre, and the right audience (say, a class of third-graders on a pre-holiday sugar high) you could pull this off. I wish the hearts were stars, though, because you could then also wear a big star on your head. (Our house is an angel-tree-topper house, much to my son's chagrin; he's a big star-topper proponent.) Or star deelyboppers! And of course, dangly Christmas-tree earrings. Preferably ones that require batteries.

Of course, every time I come up with excuses for dresses like this I am afraid I am one step closer to being their target audience. I can already be tempted much too easily into stunt dressing

If you're tempted by this dress, click on either image to be taken to the Yoox page. And good luck!

Still thinking about shirtdresses ….

Butterick 2626

I've made three shirtdresses/shirtwaists so far and I have to tell you: it's NOT ENOUGH. I have three more patterns lined up and just bought this one, too (from The Sisters Five on eBay).

A few things: making a shirtdress takes roughly TWICE as long as it takes me to make a dress that doesn't have thirteen buttons and buttonholes. It's not a four-hour task to make a dress any more; it's a lot like eight. Or possibly ten. And, no matter how many buttons I buy when they're on sale, I either don't have the right color, or, if I have the right color, they're not the right size, OR, if I have the right color & size, I am short THREE. (One or two, I could fake, but THREE is really impossible.) But despite all this, I am committed (or is that, I should be committed? Different "committed") to doing more of them. Like this one, which caught my eye with that fabulous color green, but kept it for the stripes (with that jaunty half-turned-up collar). I seem to have purchased quite a bit of striped fabric lately and the thought of matching them all … is not a good thought. Thus the raglan sleeves, yay!

Oh, and for interfacing, especially of light cottons, I've been using silk organza, instead of any fusible stuff. You can buy it cheap at Dharma Trading, and it really works well. Nice and crisp without being crisp-y; sewing it in isn't too onerous, and it never bubbles the way cheap fusible can. I bought some Shirt-Tailor interfacing but it was just WAY too stiff for me. I only use the organza to interface the collar and the front buttonhole/button facings; I baste it in just inside the foldlines of the front facings and then zigzag over both the fabric and the organza to finish the raw edge — and it's worked out nicely, so far!

Eventually I will have pictures of the three I've made, I promise.

Spoiled for Choice

I'm so sorry I didn't post yesterday — there were some internet-connectivity issues, and then there were some "I have to give a talk downtown" issues (compounded by the snow issues), and then there were the "back from a long weekend" issues. I guess I "have issues." (Except for issues of the magazine, which are the only issues I want to have. THOSE are still at the printer!)

Of course, any day on which I don't post is NOT a day in which I have NOTHING to post — I usually have the OPPOSITE problem, as in, I could post so much every day that I would do nothing else. For instance, just in the last 36 hours or so, I was sent links to:

— this incredibly cute squirrel-print sundress (sent by Julie)
— a reminder that PurlSoho has new Liberty cottons in stock (from Rebecca)
— a link to a wedding-perfect satin dress WITH POCKET (from Kai, and let's just see a picture of that pocket, okay?)

satin pocket dress

— some paper art dresses (sent by Theresa)
— an Anne Fogarty polka-dot midriff-emphasizing dress on eBay (sent by Robin, and let's just peek at that one, too, shall we?)

Anne Fogarty

And there were several more links that I will save for another day. Aren't I the luckiest blogger in Blogdom? Thank you (and keep 'em comin')!

Never Bored

Victorian Godey 1861 image

I don't know how anyone over the age of 8 is bored any longer. Hasn't the internet killed boredom? I haven't been bored since about 1993, possibly earlier. All you have to do is enter some random search string, like "most beautiful dress", and you get a treasure like this:

The most beautiful dress in the ball-room that season was worn by Miss D. It was a very handsome India muslin. She was not called the belle of the evening, but belle of the season. She was not only beautiful and graceful, but so winning and attractive in her manners, so amiable and lovely, that the belle.jpgckers, who picked all to pieces, could not find anything to say about her.

The ladies were all elegantly dressed, a few of which I will describe. One lady was dressed in white silk, with upper skirt of silk, with white illusion puffings, which swept the floor for half a yard. One well-known East Fourth- street belle wore a double-skirt of illusion, small puffs about half a yard up each side; berthe to match, trimmed with little forget-me-nots, which could not be distinguished from natural flowers; her hair was trimmed with the same shade of blue flowers, drooping down on her snowy neck, which made her look more like wax-work than a human being. She had not too much religion to go to either the East or West-end, whenever she thought it proper to go. There were many others there—but I will only say they were all beautiful.

from A Hairdresser's Experience in High Life, by Eliza Potter, 1859.

C'mon — who DOESN'T want to read the memoirs of an abolitionist hairdresser of Cincinnati? Especially when it's full of stories about gossips and beautiful dresses and scandal? It's like Little Women crossed with People.

[image from]

Prima has a question for you

ebay item 8305987417

Ruth at Prima, a UK women's magazine, is looking for people who have a treasured piece of heirloom clothing that they still wear (or at least hold on to) and a picture of their relative wearing it, for a story. (If you fit this description, you can email her.)

Because both my parents came from military/service families and moved CONSTANTLY, I don't have a lot of "inherited" clothing. I do have two things: my grandfather's cloak from the US Naval Academy (which I don't wear because it weights eleventy-billion pounds; also, I am not now nor have I ever been a fresh-faced midshipman), and my grandmother's (other side of the family) nutria fur coat, custom-made for her in Buenos Aires in the 1960s. That I wear about once a year, usually when it's both below freezing *and* I have something to get all dressed up for. (It has a hood! It's very warm! But it's not exactly a carpool, run-to-the-grocery-store kinda thing.)

Oh, and I also have a verrrrrry fancy Persian lamb shrug-type jacket that belonged to my great-aunt Jayne (but before you start in with the whole "style! it's genetic!" argument I should point out that she is the sister of my mother's stepfather and that we don't, in fact, share any genes, only a deep love of Balenciaga). I should go look at the label and tell you what it is, she buys a lot of couture. I don't get much chance to wear that, as it only really looks good over a column-style ball gown …

Even if you don't have a picture for Ruth, feel free to post about your heirlooms in the comments … I'd love to hear about them!

[Oh, and thanks to Cat for the image — she just told me that the Library of Congress has put 3000 photos on Flickr! Go check them out, there's a lot of great stuff there …]

Book Review: Trappings: Stories of Women, Power, and Clothing

book cover: Trappings

I've been meaning to write about Trappings for a while now, and then of course I "tidied" my office and an enormous number of things got put in one of those dread piles (from which only now are the bravest and most stalwart to-dos escaping).

But I'm glad this book struggled back to the top, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. The authors, Tiffany Ludwig and Renee Piechocki (who call themselves Two Girls Working) did something very simple, and very worthwhile: they traveled around and interviewed women about what they wore that made them feel powerful, and why.

The clothing (and makeup, and hair, and tattoos, and so forth) that the women interviewed talk about are all over the place: purple capes, red lipstick, cowboy hats, black bras, bellydancing costumes, and tribal dress. Ludwig and Piechocki seem to have done their best to get a good mix of ages, geographic distributions, socioeconomic classes, races, and (admirably) included transpeople, as well.

My only disappointment with the book is not the authors' fault — it was that so few women interviewed had MADE their "powerful items." (I think the only people wearing things that they had made themselves were two women who were Eastern Shoshone and Crow, in traditional dress.) I think making something yourself adds an extra dimension to clothing — I've gotten to the point now where I hardly ever wear a dress or skirt that I didn't make, just because I feel so much better, more competent, and more all-around alive when I'm wearing something I did make.

That said, Trappings is a wonderful read. Check it out!

What do YOU wear that makes you feel powerful? Feel free to tell me in the comments …